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Updated July 2012

T. E. Lawrence to Henry Williamson

Ozone Hotel,


Dear H.W.

I have so much the better of you: for when I want a talk, it is just putting out an arm and taking a book from my shelves. That's as it should be, at least; but just now I live in this house with a jesting name (here to watch the refit of ten R.A.F. boats for next season's work on the bombing range) and for a word with you yesterday I had to go to York and lay out three days' pay on The Linhay... which I have been dipping into, with satisfaction, all this too rough Sunday. Too rough for a walk from lodgings. No clothes, poor fire for drying.

What a sentence for No. 1! Do you find it hard to begin books? Let me take down your hackles by two quotes from The Linhay: bad sentences. P. 67 'how heat and the floating algae . . . takes'.... P. 36 'many old bucks are caught in gins which otherwise would eat young rabbits.'

It isn't fair, for I would like to write like you, easily or grudgingly but copiously, able to make a sentence of all you see and do, with a catching intimate easy speech, like a man in slippers. For a mannered writer, you have the best manners in the world.

Don't vex yourself over Walpole or Shanks or Hanks or Banks: or vex yourself only because they discourage your book-buyers. Or do they? The best way to sell a novel was to persuade the Bishop of London to preach against it. I can conceive Hugh Walpole being second-best. I fancy writers get so wrapped up in their own sort of writing, that they find all variations from it bad. At least, they seem to me to make poor critics of contemporary stuff. You write almost disarmingly well. You write better than Richard Jefferies, splendid fellow though he was. Better for me, that is: I feel more heart and see less eye, in you. You look for the unusual, he for the average. Of course he had an awful life. No Alvis, no country contentment, or comfort, anyhow. Few concerns aside from earning, and no war to light his background. We learned a lot in those years, which makes us immemorially older and wiser than the old or the young.

Stop burbling? All right, I'll stop. Let's get back to history. I am discharged from the R.A.F. (my life, almost) next March: and cannot make even the ghost of plans for afterwards. There is my cottage in Dorsetshire (Clouds Hill, Moreton, Dorset) on the heath just north of Bovington Camp, between Dorchester and Wareham. I'll have to go there for my savings have not been very successful: I'll have only 25/- a week. So I must sit under my own roof, and do nothing till I want to do something. Is that a programme?

I hope an Alvis may visit me, for if you ever go to England, via S. Dorset is not much further than via the Plain. In my cottage is no food, and no bed. At nightfall there is a flea-bag, and I lay it on the preferred patch of floor in either room. The ground-room is for books, and the stair-room is for music: music being the trade-name for a gramophone and records. There are five acres of rhododendron and fires every evening from their sticks. It sounds to me all right for living, but then so does your valley - yet you often throw yourself angrily away from it. Well, we shall see. But bring your own food. I shall have no cooking. It smells in so small a house. A tiny house. No water near, alas!

As I said, at the beginning, I have the advantage of you, for when I want a word with Henry Williamson, it is only the stretching of an arm to a shelf. If I want him objective, there’s Tarka: subjective, there’s The Pathway or Falcon or Dream of Women. I feel greedy, at having so much of so many people (though not the half I should have had. Books have gone from my hands wholesale while my back was turned. My cottage holds only the rags of a collection) and at liking them so much without making a return. (By the way, did I ever lend you the typescript of my R.A.F. book? Surely I did, poor return though it is). Sometimes I sit on my chair amidst the books, afraid to open any of them, not having earned it. If only I could write like I read.

Stop burbling again? All right, but this sea rushing and sliding in my ears won't stop. My room is a tower-room, over the harbour wall, and the waves roll all day like green Swiss rolls over the yellow sand, till they hit the wall and run back like spinning rope. I want to walk out in the wind and the wet, like at Clouds Hill, and can't, for my landlady's sake. Keep cheerful. And let us meet after my R.A.F. life is ended.



Editor's note: on internal evidence, this letter is probably mis-dated. Also, Williamson's reply is dated 10 December.

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Source: DG 833-4
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 1 January 2006


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